McVicar was born in Inverness. After working abroad, he
returned to Scotland and was employed in various areas
of social work before becoming a self-employed
storyteller, author and songwriter. He has performed in
over 200 schools and countless other venues across
Scotland, as well as in Canada, the USA, Holland,
Russia, Sweden and Uganda. He has written some 40 songs
which have been commercially recorded, including 20 for
the Kettle children’s show and a 1960's Top Twenty hit.
In his book -
ABC, my grannie caught a flea: Scots children's
songs and rhymes he introduces the book by saying...
Scotland is rich in many things, not least in our
traditional children’s songs and rhymes. Every Scots
child and adult can sing ‘Ally bally bee’ and ‘Ye canny
shove yer grannie’. The other small rhythmic words we
use to comfort or amuse very small people, and the
vigorous games and funny rhymes we recall from
playground days, will vary according to our age and
where we were brought up. Older people lament that the
young ‘don’t sing in the playground any more’, but
school playtimes are hotching with song and rhyme.
True, few of the pieces popular 40 years ago can be
found in action today. The kids casually make new rhymes
from snatches of TV commercials and popular song. They
remake - and sometimes mangle - old pieces, and
ruthlessly discard most that are fondly remembered by
adults, but this has always been the case. Look into
collections in books and archives — you will find
thousands of childhood rhymes and songs that flourished,
then faded away.
celebrates the richness of those older sources, combined
with the fruits of the author’s visits to Scottish
schools from 1991 to 2006.The songs and rhymes are rich
in vigour and bounce, direct language, the Scots voice,
humour, observations on adult relationships that are
sometimes sharp and sometimes naive, and surreal
As you read them, you will half recognise old favourites
but often say, ‘Those are the wrong words’ because they
are not what was used in your street or playground.
Elements were trimmed off, shuffled, recombined, pruned,
turned into nonsense, then into a new form of sense. I
have included varying versions of a few to show how they
grow and decline.
What are they for? For the children, amusement and to
accompany physical activity, of course, but also for
practising, developing and showing off language skills.
For adults, fond memories of simpler times?